The WWII Memorial was dedicated in 2004 at the site of the Rainbow Pool, which was incorporated into the memorial design as the fountain you see in the center.
The memorial is divided into two sides (north and south) that represent the Atlantic and Pacific fronts.
You will find the names of battles, quotes from presidents and generals, and scenes from each front throughout the memorial.
The Atlantic and Pacific arches also act as entrances to walk into the memorial from.
Inside each arch, you will find 4 American bald eagles, each holding garland in their beaks, which holds a laurel wreath.
The laurel wreath is the symbol of victory and peace.
Directly beneath the wreath is a large medallion depicting Nike, the Roman Goddess of Victory.
She is standing on the helmet of Mars, the God of War, and she is holding parts of a broken sword in both hands.
World War 2 veterans will recognize this image as it’s the same image that adorned the only universal medal earned by each member of the U.S. Armed Forces during WW2.
The symbols in these 2 entrances leave no doubt to the visitor that this memorial is dedicated to the total victory by U.S. and Allied Forces.
Surrounding the fountain are 56 columns that list U.S. states, commonwealths, and territories that sent men and women to serve under the U.S. flag during WWII.
Each column has two wreaths, one inside and one outside.
One wreath consists of oak leaves, representing industrial might. The other consists of wheat, representing the agricultural might of the United States.
Freedom Wall and the Gold Stars
The Freedom Wall, an arched wall containing thousands of gold stars, is where we “mark the price of Freedom” and honor the 416,800 American servicemen who died in uniform during WWII.
The gold stars come from a military tradition in the USA where military families hang small flags in the windows of their homes to note that a family member was serving in uniform.
If that member paid the ultimate sacrifice, then the blue star would be replaced with a gold star.
There are 4,048 Gold Stars with each star representing approximately 100 U.S. service members who perished in uniform during the war.
The Order of the States
The order of the states and territories is not immediately obvious.
They are arranged in order that they became part of the United States and alternate from side to side, starting with the Delaware and Pennsylvania, the 1st two states to ratify the U.S. Constitution, on either side of the Freedom Wall.
Kilroy Was Here
One of the many hidden secrets of the WWII Memorial is a depiction of Kilroy hidden on the memorial (actually it is hidden twice!).
Downtown Washington DC can me a lot of different things but generally speaking it’s the area around the White House, north of the National Mall. Chinatown, Penn Quarter, Archives, Federal Triangle are all Metro stations in this area so you can get on basically any Metro line if you’re staying central.
You’ll find a lot of high-end hotels in this area, but with advance planning you can get a room at some centrally located affordable hotels here as well. They won’t be the least expensive hotel in the DC Metro area, but you’ll also have the convenience of a centrally located place to stay.
This hotel opened in 1914, so as history enthusiasts we have to put this on our list. Nothing fancy here but the location is…. the best. Steps away from Ford’s Theater and Pennsylvania Ave, all the sites and museums are nearby. In fact, our Lincoln Assassination tour ends one block away! The fact that it is still family run gives it added charm. Busy season rates can be $130 – $190 a night, and in the off season you can find an even better deal here. This hotel is a great secret of Washington tourism so check out their website and let us know if you stay there.
Located on 14th Street, one of the most vibrant streets in the city. Guests can easily walk down to the memorials on the National Mall, the Smithsonian Museums, or the White House. As part of a hotel chain, the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown might not have as much character as other hotels, but the service is very reliable.
This is part of a global hostel chain (Hostelling International) that includes more than 4,000 hostels in 80 countries. In fact, HI is the 6th largest provider of travel accommodation in the world. Guests can thus expect HI – Washington, DC to similarly meet the high standards expected of all HI affiliated hostels in terms of cleanliness and the quality of the staff. Other perks of this hostel include its 24-hour front desk service and spacious common area. HI – Washington, DC is also very conveniently located within a 15 minute walk of 3 different metro lines and the White House.
As the former home of the Kennedy’s, Georgetown is a high end neighborhood with a lot of luxury hotels. We list a few of the more affordable Georgetown options below. Most DC residents will tell you that once you cross over Rock Creek headed east, you aren’t in Georgetown anymore. The Foggy Bottom neighborhood, home to George Washington University and the Kennedy Center still has some hotels that boast “Georgetown” in the name.
There is no Metro station in Georgetown but you’ll find it not a far walk from the Foggy Bottom station on the Blue, Orange or Silver Lines. There are also many bus routes, including the free Circulator that go to Georgetown.
This hotel only offers suites from studio to 2 bedroom, all of which include free WiFi and contentinel breakfast. The Georgetown Suites is located near the waterfront at the Georgetown Harbor with access to the meeting and drop off point of many of the sightseeing boat tours.
A highly rated hotel located on Washington Circle, not far from the Foggy Bottom Metro station and an easy walk to Georgetown. We have many guests stay here with wonderful things to say about the staff and location.
Dupont Circle has a number of boutique hotels and a great night-life scene. Embassy Row starts at Dupont Circle and heads west down Massachusetts Ave NW and you’ll also find the Phillips Art Collection here.
It is serviced by the red line station, Dupont Circe, as well as the Circulator bus line.
A beautiful boutique hotel right off of Dupont Circle. Very reasonably priced rooms and excellent customer service. The White House is just a few blocks away, and the metro is across the street. Dupont is a fun and less touristy part of town, with easy access into Georgetown.
Newly renovated and right on Embassy Row, this hotel comes with one of the only rooftop pool bars in the city. A kitchen with homemade gin drinks and great food downstairs and beautiful views, you might not want to leave. This hotel offers a great location as base to explore all of the city. In fact, you might run into many of our guides at the pool in the summer as it’s one of our favorite secret oases in the city!
This Washington DC bed and breakfast in hip northwest DC is accessible by public bus and 15-minute walk from the ever popular Dupont Circle and its Metro station – and our Dupont Circle/Embassy Row Tours!
The perfect location for access to the National Mall, Georgetown, Union Station, National Zoo, and Chinatown by public transportation. As a B&B, you get a clean and comfortable room but better yet a delicious, homemade breakfast – even to go if you ask in advance!
A charming inn with a fireplace in the parlor, hardwood floors, and a true feel of escaping with no television in the rooms, the Hotel Tabard Inn is an oasis in DC. Also located at Dupont Circle, you won’t feel the hustle and bustle of the nearby city life. A late eighteenth-century townhouse, the rooms have private or shared bathrooms and a full restaurant downstairs. Tabard Inn brunches are renowned in DC so be sure to try their homemade donuts that some of our guides wait weeks to get a reservation for!
While it’s on the higher end of our recommendations, the charm, location and restaurant make it a great choice.
Capitol Hill is more than just our government, it’s a residential neighborhood as well. The ever popular Eastern Market has weekend farmers markets and Barracks Row is home to some of the best locally owned restaurants. You’ll also be near the National Mall’s east end where the Air and Space Museum,National Gallery of Art, and Spy Museum are located.
Most of the Metro stations in this area on on the Blue, Orange, Silver line – like Capitol South and Eastern Market.
You’ll find this location is popular with lots of international groups so don’t be surprised to see many British high schoolers in the elevator! Located just steps from the Air an Space Museum and an easy walk to the Capitol, it is a great location. The hotel has a restaurant and bar as well as a Starbucks in the lobby.
A unique option, the William Penn House is a Quaker Meetinghouse that offers lodging in a great location. It’s more of a hostel in that there are shared rooms but a great way to meet other interested visitors to the city. Breakfast is included in the inexpensive room rates, but if you’re still hungry you can join us on our Eastern Market Dessert Tour just down the street. As it is a religious house, there are worship services but the Quaker house is open to all.
Union Station is the main transport hub in the city as a stop for Amtrak, MARC, Megabus and more. The Metro also has a red line stop here. The area around Union Station has become more developed with hotels, restaurants and bars.
This hostel offers up a fun and relaxing atmosphere for those looking to make a few new friends during their time in DC. There are many books, game and even a Wii console available for use. Also, Downtown Washington Hostel is located along H Street, perhaps DC’s hippest and most up and coming neighborhood. There are endless restaurants and bars in the area, though unfortunately no metro stations directly on H Street. However, Union Station — a hub for Amtrak, Metro, and many buses — is only 5 blocks from the hostel.
Literally across the street from Union Station and within walking distance to the Capitol, this is a great location. This historic hotel is considered a premier option but the rates are comparable to many other affordable hotels around the city. It has incredibly good reviews and is a great option for business travelers.
Not only is staying in Virginia less expensive than staying in DC, it is also a great area to explore. You’ll find many great restaurants in Rosslyn, which is an easy walk to Georgetown as well. Pentagon City is home to our nearest shopping mall and is across the street from the Pentagon. Crystal City has a walkable main street with lots of food options. And all of these hotels are on the same metro line as DCA Airport.
There are so many hotels in Virginia that you can find anything from a Econolodge to a Marriott. What to keep in mind when looking at the various options is to find a hotel that is walking distance to a Metro station or offers a shuttle.
Arlington Virginia Hotels – this includes Pentagon City and Crystal City, as well as hotels near DCA Airport. Rossyln Metro Station and surrounding area is walkable from Georgetown and just a few Metro stations from the National Mall.
One of the most frustrating expenses associated with staying at a hotel can be paying the outrageous prices that they charge you to store your car on the premises. If you’re driving into the city, it’s almost impossible to avoid these fees. Until now.
A popular service in DC called SpotHero enables drives to view all of the available parking options near their destination and see how much it might cost to park for any particular time period. You can even pay for a guaranteed space ahead of time online. While your hotel may charge upwards of $50 per night, you might find a garage through SpotHero right down the street for less than half the cost!
What’s more, these garages often offer discounts for booking online through SpotHero. Once you purchase your spot, SpotHero will email you a parking pass and make sure that a space is reserved at the garage. You can drive into DC knowing that a parking spot will be waiting for you, and that you saved a few bucks in the process!
You can save even more money by booking a spot at a garage outside the heart of the city, but close to a Metro stop. Simply drop the family off at the hotel, go park the car, and Metro back to the hotel. It takes a bit of work, but you’ll surely be outsmarting the crowd.
Renting a bike is a great way to get around the city without breaking the bank or sitting in traffic. There are a number of bike rental companies in DC, but the cheapest and most convenient way to travel is through Capital Bikeshare.
Here are some tips on how to use it, avoiding additional travel fees and making the most out of your trip.
Before we start the walk-through, there are a few important design features that are important to understanding the memorial.
First, keeping in mind FDR’s own physical impairments, the memorial’s head designer, Lawerence Halprin, who himself was physically impaired, strongly considered accessibility in the design of the memorial.
FDR was stricken with polio at age 39 and lost the use of his legs; he was wheelchair bound for his entire presidency.
The memorial was the first to be built wheelchair accessible and includes a system of low ramps, tactile reliefs, and Braille writing.
Second, there are a number of symbolic water features that change in size and volume as you move through the memorial.
The waterfalls are intended to symbolize the increasing tumultuousness surrounding FDR’s presidency, marked by the Great Depression, World War II, and Roosevelt’s death in 1945. The use of water was symbolic and each room has a different water feature.
Third, the stone walls also reflect these historical changes, becoming more rough-hewn as visitors move through FDR’s four terms.
Fourth, the memorial includes sculptures depicting notable imagery during FDR’s presidency, such as a bread line and fireside chat.
There is also a sculpture of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt honoring her dedication to the United Nations, making the FDR Memorial the only Presidential memorial to include the First Lady.
Finally, the memorial features 21 quotes carved into stone recounting passages from FDR’s most notable speeches and writings.
As you move from room to room, note the inscriptions on the ground marking the transition from one Presidential term to the next.
To enter the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, begin at the visitor’s center on the north side off of West Basin Drive.
With the visitor’s center on your left, you are standing in the Prologue Room. The Prologue Room was added to the memorial in 2001 to accommodate the statue to your right.
This life-sized depiction of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his wheelchair was the result of a 3-year debate after the memorial was opened in 1997.
Originally, Lawrence Halprin and the other memorial designers decided not to represent FDR in a wheelchair, since the President himself went to great lengths to hide his disability.
However, the National Organization on Disability widely criticized the memorial for representing a historically incomplete picture of the President.
Memorial officials first attempted to quell criticism by adding casters to the chair statue that you will see in the third room. That did not satisfy disability advocates.
So, the National Organization on Disability raised over 1.6 million dollars to fund the addition of the prologue room, which includes the statue depicting clearly FDR in his wheelchair, welcoming visitors to the memorial.
Walk around the right side of the wall in front of you, and notice the bronze-cast Presidential Seal as you enter the first room of the memorial.
First Term 1933-1937
The first room in the FDR Memorial represents the Great Depression and the hopefulness that his election to the presidency meant to many Americans.
Seven quotes, all taken from his inaugural address, refer the Great Depression and are inscribed into the surrounding walls, including FDR’s most famous quote “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
During this speech, Roosevelt addressed the economic crisis, staggering unemployment rates, and foreign policy. His confident and direct oratory style gave American’s assurance during a time of extreme financial instability.
Under that quote is a bronze relief depicting his inaugural parade.
The water feature for this first room is a single strong waterfall, representing the crash of the Great Depression.
Continue through the memorial to the second room; notice the inscription in the ground as you move into FDR’s second presidential term.
Second Term 1937-1941
The central focus of FDR’s second term was developing and executing the New Deal, a system of job programs funded and organized by the federal government in partnership with states, intended to bring the country out of economic turmoil.
In this room, there are three scenes depicting the state of American citizens in the United States during the Great Depression.
In front of you, against the large central wall, a rural farming family is depicted suffering from the effects of drought, dust bowls, and poverty.
A bread line is also shown, representing the poverty and desperation of the urban working class during the Great Depression.
Inscribed above the sculptures is the following quote from FDR’s second inaugural address: “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.”
The sculpture to the right depicts a man listening to one of Roosevelt’s fireside chats.
FDR gave thirty public addresses over the radio between 1933 and 1944, communicating directly with the American public for the first time in US presidential history.
Over the radio, FDR spoke simply and clearly, addressing national issues with straightforward language and direct explanations.
These broadcasts allowed FDR to intimately connect with Americans in their homes—he earned the trust of the Nation and reassured the country during times of economic upheaval and world war.
This tradition is carried on to this day through the President’s weekly address, usually posted online and broadcast on the radio.
Continue straight, around the right side of the central wall, and you will see a large stepped waterfall directly in front of you with six columns standing in the center of the room.
These columns are meant to represent FDR’s New Deal, depicted as rolls of an industrial printing press. The negative images are shown wrapped around the columns and then “imprinted” on the wall to your left as bronze reliefs.
The more than 2 dozen images show examples of New Deal programs that FDR pushed to enact to help the United States out of the Great Depression.
These tactile reliefs are meant to be interactive for the blind and include Braille captions throughout.
The large stepped waterfall represents the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dam-building projects, which helped stimulate the economy and electrify an area hard hit by the economic collapse.
The waterfall is now bigger and more elaborate. In a way, the TVA represented an evolution in the new deal, from funding small, locally controlled projects to more federal control involving multiple states in one endeavor.
Walk around to the left to enter the third room, noting the inscription on the ground.
Third Term 1941-1945
FDR’s third term as President brought the United States into World War II. The broken slabs of granite scattered along the ground represent the confusion and struggle that WWII created, with the quote “I hate war” inscribed on the blocks.
You should also notice the waterfall, now not only larger and steeped but also chaotic, in disorder, reflecting the disorderly state of international affairs at the time.
Beyond the stones is a large sculpture of FDR and his beloved pet dog, Fala (the only presidential pet to be memorialized).
This is the memorial’s original FDR statue, depicting him at the Yalta Conference, just months before his death, with a cloak obscuring his chair.
If it seems familiar, it’s because it’s a depiction of him in a famous of him with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill seated next to him (minus the cigarette).
As mentioned in the prologue room summary, this statue was the subject of controversy, even after metal castors were added to represent the wheelchair.
Interestingly, the depiction of FDR is correct. In the Yalta Conference image, he is sitting in a regular chair.
You will also notice that FDR’s pointer finger and Fala’s ears are shiny gold, as visitors have been touching and taking pictures with the bronze sculptures since 1997.
Continue along to the left to enter the fourth and final room of the memorial.
Fourth Term 1945 Room
Walk down the ramp to your right to enter FDR’s fourth term, which was punctuated by the President’s death on April 12th, 1945.
At the middle of the ramp is a still pool of water with a relief above depicting the President’s funeral procession.
Still water, representing serenity and reflection, is common at memorials when representing death.
Continue down the ramp and enter the main area of the memorial.
To your right is a statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with a United Nations emblem behind her.
This is the only presidential memorial to honor a First Lady. It also commemorates her contributions to the UN and human rights causes.
As this memorial is not just a memorial to FDR but to the American public and what we went through together as a country at the time, this final room brings together everything.
You’ll find still water, chaotic and stepped waterfalls, and a single strong waterfall – the types of water feature you saw earlier through the memorial.
Carved into the steps to the left, exiting the memorial, there is a brief timeline of events in FDR’s life.
The last quote of the memorial, engraved onto the wall to your right as you exit, is taken from FDR’s January 6th, 1941 State of the Union Address, when the country was on the precipice of entering World War II.
In this speech, Roosevelt listed the “Four Freedoms” that American’s would be fighting for overseas:
We are proud to offer our newest, affordable sightseeing option – AUDIO TOURS. Can’t make one of our guided tours? No problem, we have recorded some of our best tour guides giving their tours and put them on a GPS enabled app.
We have partnered with Atlantis Audio Tours to provide you with a convenient way to experience our tours. Each tour offers an off-line option to view the map and hear the audio of each walk so that you don’t need to have GPS maps running with the app.
This post covers how to use the Metro subway in Washington, D.C., including tips on SmartTrip Cards, tourist passes, and how to navigate the public transport system. While the DC Metro is great for getting you around the city, it can’t get you around the National Mall. Let DC by Foot get you around on one of our pay-what-you-like tours.
Join us as we explore the historic treasures of DC’s U Street corridor. Once known as “Black Broadway,” this neighborhood remains a trove of the capital’s black American history. From the Civil War through the Jazz Age to the race riots of the ‘60s and beyond.
Don’t forget to tag us on social media @freetoursbyfoot when you take this tour! You can share your photos and ask us any questions!
This is a short tour of the food and history of the neighborhood, but if you’re more interested in the history of what was once called “Black Broadway”, take our self-guided audio tour which includes much more of the history from the Civil War to today.
Even if you don’t download any tours, you will still have access to valuable information on sightseeing.
Listen to a sample of our U Street History Tour.
Start: Ben’s Chili Bowl — 1213 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009
End: The Coffee Bar — 1201 S St NW, Washington, DC 20009
STOP 1 — Ben’s Chili Bowl (A)
Opened in 1958 by Ben Ali and his wife, Virginia, Ben’s Chili Bowl is one of the most famous restaurants in all of Washington, D.C.
Ben moved to the US from Trinidad to study dentistry at nearby Howard University.
Ben’s operated at the height of “Black Broadway” so you would often find some of the greats hanging out between sets – Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx.
After Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination in 1968, the U Street Corridor was devastated by riots (which we will talk more about at a later stop). Ben’s was given special permission to stay open past the city curfew in order to provide meals for those trying to restore order.
If you ask anyone what Washington DC specialty is, you’d get a variety of answers but many would be a half-smoke. Now, what is a half-smoke? Well, that depends on who you ask – but it is one of the popular dishes at Ben’s. Some folks in DC say its a sausage that is only half smoked, others say that it is part pork and part beef. Its best had with Ben’s famous chili.
Today, there are now multiple Ben’s Chili Bowl locations, including inside the National’s Ballpark, though the original remains on U Street. It’s a great place to stop in for a bite to eat as much of the interior decor is original.
We start the tour here in case you want to pop in for a bite to eat. Continue to the next stop now or after you pause for a half-smoke. The tour will end one block away at 14th and U Street so you can also easily come back after the tour. When you’re ready to leave Ben’s check out the alley to the left of Ben’s Chili Bowl and you’ll see a mural on Ben’s outer wall.
This is not the first mural here. The first featured Donnie Simpson, Barack Obama, Chuck Brown, and Bill Cosby. In 2017, it was replaced with this mural, showing Muhammad Ali, Michelle Obama, Prince, Wale, Taraji P. Henson, Harriet Tubman, and Roberta Flack. It was painted by DC artist Aniekan Udofia.
If you’re interested in more about the DC street art scene, check out our self-guided tour about DC Street Art and Graffiti (coming soon)
Things to try: Ben’s half-smoke, chili-cheese fries, and chili-cheese burger.
Lincoln Theater — Opened in 1922, Lincoln Theater has featured famous performers such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, and Pearl Bailey. The theater closed after the 1968 riots following Dr. King’s assassination but opened again in 1994.
True Reformers Building — Designed, financed, and built by black Americans, the True Reformer Building was completed in 1903 and has served as a Boys Club, the DC chapter location of the National Negro Business League, and, most recently, home to the Public Welfare Foundation. Duke Ellington, who grew up in the neighborhood, played his first paid performance in the building, charging guests an entry fee of 5 cents.
STOP 2 — Florida Avenue Grill (B)
Florida Ave is located at the edge of the city. Or what used to be. This was originally called Boundary Road and was the border between the federal city of Washington and Washington County. Land spectators purchased up this land because it was the cheap land on the edge of the city.
By the 1940s this was a strip mall, and Lacey Wilson, Sr purchased essentially a hole in the wall with 2 stools. He was a shoe shiner on Capitol Hill and saved his tips to purchase the space. He and his wife, Bertha, would buy two chickens in the morning. Once those were cooked up and sold, they would take the earnings to go to the store and buy two more.
As they could afford, they would buy up the stores next to them to expand. Florida Avenue Grill became a staple in Washington DC and is its oldest soul-food restaurant. It survived the 1968 riots that destroyed other nearby business because Lacey Wilson, Jr, sat in the front booth with a shotgun.
In 2005, the Wilson family sold the Grill to its current owner, Imar Hutchins. Hutchins purchased much of the surrounding property to build a condo building – a sign of the gentrification of the area. He named it The Lacey in honor of the father and son duo who built and grew the grill two chickens at a time.
Because this restaurant is such a key part of the history of the neighborhood and Washington, DC, he kept it the same. You can find turkey sausage and salads now but you can also sample (and we recommend that you do) some of the traditional soul food it’s famous for.
Across the street is the Cardoza Education Campus. Cardoza High School was the high school Marvin Gaye was meant to graduate from – except he left to focus on music and to join the Air Force his junior year. Marvin Gaye was born at the Freedman’s Hospital in 1939 (the building is now part of Howard University Communications building). When he was a student at Cardoza, he formed his first musical group, a doo-wap group, the DC Tones with school friends.
Marvin Gaye would return to DC often for performances, including stopping by Cardoza in 1972 to sing “What’s Going On” but he reportedly hated Washington, DC.
Things to try: biscuits and gravy, mac n cheese, and their scrapple.
Howard University — Named after General Otis Howard who founded the university and was Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, Howard University was the first biracial university south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The practice of “sit-ins” was pioneered at Howard during the 1940s, decades before the Civil Rights movement gained momentum. Notable alumni and/or professors include Thurgood Marshall, Toni Morrison, Elijah Cummings, and Ben Ali.
The Industrial Savings Bank — One of the first black American owned banks in the country, the Industrial Savings Bank has been opened since 1913, with the exception of a brief 2-year closure during the Great Depression.
Bohemian Caverns — John Whitelaw, who also opened the Industrial Savings Bank, would purchase this property in 1926. The ground floor of the building was a pharmacy, which then led downstairs into a speakeasy jazz club that featured performers such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.
Lee’s Flower Shop — A family flower shop that opened in 1945, Lee’s Flower Shop is one of three commercial businesses located directly on U Street that has remained open prior to King’s assassination (the others being the Industrial Bank and Ben’s Chili Bowl).
STOP 3 — Oohs and Ahhs (C)
A soul food restaurant opened in 2003, Oohs and Ahhs is a tiny hole in the wall that has been featured in the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri. It is especially popular with the late-night crowd as it stays open until midnight on the weekdays and 4am on the weekends. Things to try: sweet yams, collard greens, potato salad, and mac n cheese.
African American Civil War Memorial & Museum: The Shaw and U Street Corridor neighborhoods grew organically into a hub of black American prosperity from the aftermath of the American Civil War.Contraband camps such as Camp Barker, the Campbell Hospital, Wisewell Barracks and the Freedman’s Hospital, which later became part of Howard University’s Medical School were located in this undeveloped area of Washington DC. During the Civil War, it became a federal policy that escaped enslaved persons from Confederate statues should not be returned as they could aid the Confederate cause and thus were considered contraband. Many escaped to Washington DC and formed camps and communities in this area.Located just outside of the U Street Metro Station (10th St exit), the African American Civil War Memorial was designed in 1997 by Ed Hamilton and honors the over 200,000 United States Colored Troops who fought in the war.
Hamilton’s The Spirit of Freedom statue is the focal point, featuring figures of men marching into battle on the front side of the memorial and then imprints of soldiers saying goodbye to their families on the back. A low rise metal wall surrounds the memorial and lists all the names of the 209,145 United States Colored Troops who served.
Across the street is the African American Civil War Museum. This small yet extremely high-quality museum opened in 1999. The exhibits tell the story of African Americans who fought in the Civil War. The museum has a registry of names available to descendants of USCT veterans. As of 2019, the museum is in the process of moving to a large facility, the Grimke School next door. It is currently housed in the historic school’s auditorium.
A stop an audio tour cannot do justice to the contributions of the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War so we highly recommend a visit to the museum. The museum is open every day and has free admission. You can find out more on their website here: https://www.afroamcivilwar.org/about-us/visit.html
STOP 4 — Habesha Market (D)
Both a market and a restaurant, Habesha Market is located in the heart of “Little Ethiopia.” Washington, D.C. actually has the largest Ethiopian population in the country, with some estimates suggesting as many as 200,000 Ethiopian residents in the metro area of the city. Many Ethiopians first started to move to D.C. during the civil war in Ethiopia in the 1970s. Initially, most resided in Adams Morgan, a neighborhood that is not too far from U Street. However, as Adams Morgan became much more expensive, many Ethiopians moved to 9th Street in the U Street Corridor. Things to try: sambusa, spicy lentils, and spicy beef stew.
7th Street — 7th Street’s grittier atmosphere was much preferred by Langston Hughes, who considered U Street to be much too posh and pretentious. The two streets have always been rather dichotomous, and whereas today U Street has very much been gentrified, 7th Street is still an “up and coming” area of the neighborhood. 7th Street would see some of the worst destruction after the rioting.
Dunbar Theater — This building on the right corner was a multi-use building that had offices, residences, as well as a movie theatre, the Dunbar Theatre, and the headquarters of the Southern Aid Society, one of the oldest Black life insurance companies in the country. It opened in 1921 but was also forced to close its doors after the rioting. Today, all that remains of its history is a sign that hangs on the corner.
Howard Theater — The Howard Theater opened its doors in 1910, but was also shut down after all the looting and increase in crime. After a $29 million remodel, Howard Theater opened once again in 2012. On the roof top, a lighted statue of Duke Ellington is featured.
STOP 5 — The Coffee Bar (E)
Opened in 2012, this hip new coffee shop really speaks to the changing demographics of the neighborhood. Thing to try: the honey badger.
Capitol Checkers — For $30 a year, checkers aficionados come here to compete against each other. A mural is featured on the east wall of the building. Though less than 20 years old, Capitol Checkers has an old school charm.
The Thurgood Marshall Center —Formerly home to the first African American chapter of the YMCA, the building has since been renamed after Thurgood Marshall (the first African American Supreme Court Justice and the attorney during the Brown v Board of Education case) as he frequented it during his time as a law student at Howard University. The original location of the YMCA, which was founded by Anthony Bowen in 1853, was on 12th Street. The current building was dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt in 1908.
Duke Ellington’s Childhood Home — Duke Elligton lived in multiple homes in the Shaw/U Street neighborhood. As his parents were professional musicians, they often encouraged Ellington to pursue music. However, he remained reluctant until being inspired by the Jazz bars located in his neighborhood. He got his start as a composer on U Street and then would go on to achieve international success.
Whitelaw Hotel — Another property owned by John Whitelaw, this was the premier hotel for wealthy visitors to U Street during its heyday as there was not a luxury hotel that would accommodate black visitors in the area.